The Earliest Known History of Temporary Tattoos

While permanent tattoos were around for thousands of years, not many people know that temporary ones are a product of the modern age; more precisely speaking, the twentieth century. Extremely popular among children and adults who wouldn’t accept permanent ink on their bodies, temporary tattoos were an instant hit and remain to be so to this day.
Today we’ll talk about the earliest known history of temporary tattoos, their evolution, and speculate what the future holds for them, so let’s begin from the start:

Cracker Jack – The popularization of the first temporary tattoos

No one could prove or disprove that Cracker Jack actually began the temporary tattoo trend, although most sources agree that this was the company that brought this particular product to the masses, which in turn made it almost synonymous with it.
Some claim that Cracker Jack temporary tats emerged on the market in 1890, which is impossible due to the fact that the company did not exist yet. The brand was founded in 1896, and up to this point has endured several shifts of leadership.

temporary tattoo
Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst 


Cracker Jack popularized temporary tattoos by wrapping them in their proprietary bubble gum models in 1912. The series of products followed by toy ‘prizes’ featured plastic figurines, stickers, decoder rings, booklets, as well as riddles. Temporary tattoos were the latest addition to the series while the other toys were gradually becoming a part of the line ever since 1896.

Temporary tattoos made of food-coloring sheets in the 1950s

Cracker Jack products remain relevant to this day, although their prized toys were arguably much more popular a century ago being the hottest novelty on the market.
It is believed that somewhere between the tail end of the Second World War and early ‘50s sheets of food-coloring temporary tattoos were being sold at a cost of a single cent on the streets. Whether this was Cracker Jack’s side project (given the massive popularity of temporary tattoos in particular) or individuals who would hoard and sell them in bulk.
Be it as it may, temporary tattoos were becoming more steadily available during this time period. Original Cracker Jack tattoos could easily be distinguished from these street-sold designs by their paper construction. Namely, the brand switched over to paper due to a global shortage of pretty much everything in the wake of the war.

Baseball Temporary Tattoos in the 1970s

Baseball being arguably one of the most popular sports in America was one of the most widely used concepts for temporary tattoos in the 1970s.
Again, Cracker Jack famously dabbled in manufacturing baseball cards and stamps ever since 1915 (and possibly earlier), so it was only a matter of time before gorgeous little stars, trains, and similar graphics were joined by prominent baseball stars such as Shoeless Joe Jackson and Hank Gowdy.
The trend of baseball temporary tattoos was extremely popular in America, but it eventually expanded across all four corners of the globe.

The European take on temporary tattoos in the 1980s

Even though temporary tattoos were being manufactured and available in Europe decades before the ‘80s, it was at this time period that they became more popular than ever. Copenhagen’s temporary tattoo revolution was led by one of the most acclaimed tattooists of the time under the name of Ole Hansen. 
Ole was backed by Dandy Novelty in terms of manufacturing facilities and financial backing, allowing the team to produce temporary tattoos in bulk with exceptional quality of design and aesthetics.
At the same time but on the other end of the globe, Scratch & Sniff tattoos were being created. Essentially, they were considered ahead of their time as they were coated with 3M-Microfragrence material, which was gentler on the sensitive skin.
A company somewhat younger than Cracker Jacks called Topps based in the UK also started creating temporary tattoos and adding them to their menu of trading collectibles, with Smurf tattoos being slightly more popular than others.

Hollywood and temporary tattoos in movies in 1986

As temporary tattoos became increasingly popular, they caught the attention of Hollywood stylists. They recognized that they could create more vivid tattoos, as well as save themselves tremendous amounts of time, by simply sticking pre-made designs on the actors instead of hand-painting each and every little detail.
The famous Minnesota 3M Mining Company joined forces with Keith Relyea, an inventor from Saint Joseph, in the venture of patenting a unique method of developing and printing images while using translucent films.
This idea was bounced back and forth between the members of the board, as the patenting process was fairly expensive. Finally, in 1984, the patent was filed, although it took two years for the committee to ultimately declare it the property of 3M Company.
Ever since, numerous famous Hollywood stars were decorated with ‘fake’ tattoos, such as Bradd Pitt in the acclaimed Ocean’s Eleven, as well as Jason Momoa in Aquaman.
The trend of using temporary tattoos almost completely replaced the use of hand-painted art in movies and TV series. The combination of the two approaches was also popular when finely-tuned details were needed, especially for high-budget titles.

Temporary Tattoos today

With over a century of trial, error, and experimentation, the temporary tattoos of today look as authentic as the real, permanent tattoos, offering the convenience of nearly immediate removal in addition to being substantially cheaper.
Professional temporary tattoo studios are becoming more and more popular, creating new job opportunities for makeup artists to generate a bit of extra revenue.
In terms of quality of artwork and longevity, temporary tattoos of today look incomparably superior to the first iterations of Cracker Jack prize tattoos, and more importantly, they don’t flake at such a rapid rate; the modern ‘fake’ tattoos are known to last for weeks on end, especially if maintained properly.
With the vastly improved technology and a cadre of professionals who are now more than sufficiently experienced to deliver quality temporary tattoos, it’s almost certain that the designs and inking methods of temporary tattoos will continue to expand and grow.
We hope that this guide was useful to you and that you have learned something new today on the early history of temporary tattoos. Make sure you are staying safe in these times we are all going through and have a good one, guys!


Where Can I get Temporary Tattoos Supplies?

We have one of the largest selection of temporary tattoos supplies available today.

Head over to our main menu up at the top and choose the Temporary Tattoo section to see all of the products we have to offer, and make sure to visit our how to make a temporary tattoo blog to learn how to use our products.

There is a lot that you can learn and do, so have fun practicing and getting creative!

Guest Blog Post by: Authority Tattoo 

Next article Body Art Guide | Everything you ever wanted to know about Body Painting

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